Dimensions Festival Croatia
added: 1 Aug 2012
interviewed by: Alasdair Byers
Croatia, land of beaches, cheap beer and beautiful brown people, is quickly becoming a powerhouse for music festivals, hyped by many as “The New Ibiza”. One group responsible for this rise are the collective of UK promoters that run the hugely successful Outlook Festival - now entering its 5th year. An originating force behind the beach-festival-with-boat-parties theme, the group are now launching a new festival, Dimensions. Focusing on house, techno and ‘soulful electronica’ the event is held at Fort Punta Christo, the 200 year old abandoned fortress. Music-News caught up with Johnny, one of the directors for the group, to talk through the new event.
> How did the idea for new festival Dimensions come about?
Well having been involved in festivals for a while via Outlook and having had a lot of fun with it we got the bug I guess. Via Outlook we’d already found an amazing location and we wanted to put on another weekend that was in a different, exciting area of music. We’d gone around the houses to see what the vibe was and the style we ended up really setting upon was this combination of house, techno and dub - a kind of ‘traditional’ electronic sound. The foundations of house and techno are exactly the same and we wanted to look at that whole space: we’ve got both the American sound via headliner Carl Craig and the Berlin sound too which really is an amalgamation of all sorts of areas. Really it was about showcasing that space in electronic music. What really set it off was a while back I watched a documentary about the beginnings of techno called Hi-Tech Soul and the name just hit me - that is exactly what we’re trying to achieve - soulful electronic music.
> So a balance between personal enthusiasm and identifying a gap in the festival market?
Yeah - of course there needs to be a commercial driver behind these events. Saying that, tn terms of our own approach we’ve always taken toward our London and Outlook events, we’ve always designed something that we personally believe is going to be a brilliant event, then just had enough confidence that we can get others excited in the same way really.
> What’s been the biggest challenge in setting up a new festival?
The biggest challenge for us was getting the word out there- once we’d set up the line up, it was about connecting with a slightly different crowd than we were used to. Compared to Outlook, our Dimensions crowd are going to be a couple of years older and they’ll be a bit more of a general european turnout. Ticket sales so far have really represented that: its 50% UK, 50% rest of Europe - which is exactly what we wanted. We had the idea, we had the venue, we had the sound systems - it was just about getting the word out in the right way. Foreign festivals are very different to organise than UK events - you’re having to convince people to fly hundreds of miles. In addition, in London we have so much going on with events and nights that people are picky, they do have the luxury of choice, so you have to offer something pretty special.
> How did you assemble the line up?
We brainstormed it as a group and had a full list of artists across House, Techno and ‘Dub - Crossover’ to insure an equal balance of the 3. It really matured when we brought on the record labels because they exposed us to the emerging artists in all those styles and that’s been the crucial thing. We’ve been working with a Scandinavian group of promoters, through that we’ve got some really great Scandi-disco acts in there, we’ve also got some Berlin promoters like LeisureSystem, and then in the cross over sound we’ve got bodies including R&S, Hessle Audio, and then recently on the House side 2020 Vision. We just brought them together and discussed their stage takeovers and ran smoothly from there.
> What was the interest level like from artists for the festival?
I put together this little document. (I’ve got a graphic designer for a housemate!), it was a map which laid out what the goal was, plus venue pictures, and I’d say it was a pretty easy sell. I mean, to say “Come out on holiday for a week and play in a 200 year old fortress, plus a boat party in the Adriatic”, it wasn’t going to be difficult to book DJs!
> As established festival promoters already you’ve seen how crowded it is out there: Is there room for ever more festivals?
It goes in trends. As an example: we’ve seen the development with Outlook really change. We’re in our 5th year now, so we started off heavily representing the 3 club nights behind that, then after a while we felt Dubstep suddenly is huge, so we pushed that, then the year after that we felt it wasn’t as edgy anymore so we disassociated ourselves from that sound and moved into the Bass music scene and the sound system culture theme. Recently it feels like Bass music’s become over-exposed so we’re looking at more of a purely sound system theme, so anything that sounds roughly like it’s inspired by Jamaica in the late 70s. So that idea of working with producers who are making the most exciting music - the likes at the moment of Little Dragon for instance, the music that they’re making is getting understood by masses and masses of people out there, so if we can identify with them we can hit the crowd. In terms of the music industry in general, yeah its on dodgy ground at the moment - especially in the UK. There’s a template for a UK festival that became very popoular and I think people are starting to feel ripped off by the whole thing. What we've actually done with Dimensions is create an alternative, It isn’t the same as Melt festival, it isnt the same as your more firm Sonar, Benicasim, Exit events, it genuinely is a holiday in a musical setting. We're confident that when people come once they'll want to come again.
> The festival runs in September comparatively late... -
There's a few things behind that. Most obvious is that fact that there are so many festivals on now, so if you choose a later date there are less festivals to go head head with and it’s easier for prospective goers to sort flights and so on. In addition though I really like the idea of an end of Summer vibe. In September its already getting pretty cold back here in the UK so when you fly out to Croatia you really fully appreciate the heat and the ability to swim in a warm sea. Also, the Croatia tourism and holiday season winds down around the end of August. It really helped in terms of getting cooperation from local hotels, service providers when we offered them an extra week of tourist income, extending their usual season.
> Why do you think has there been this explosion in festivals in recent years?
Well, alcohol sells well in a recession. Did you know gin was one of the biggest industries during rough patches in Victorian times?! It’s the party thing as well. Theatre, the Arts do struggle massively because of the downturn but, going out on the weekend? Short breaks? People if anything need that even more in a recession. Plus, now that it’s more expensive to go to Bognor Regis than it is to fly to Pula, you can see the attraction of a foreign festival - plus its a combined holiday and music experience.
> It’s always a challenge for festivals to attract the ‘right’ crowd, how do you manage that?
I think to an extent you can’t, once you've put it out there and publicised it there's nothing we can do. Saying that, I think so much of it is down to the line up. As event organisers, we're only ever gonna book on our top line artists we believe to be good musicians, not simple mass-crowd pullers. Then the central part of our line up is always gonna be what’s based on club culture at the moment. If you can create something that only a genuine music enthusiast can get excited about then you’re going to bring in the right people. We're not taking the easy road in that sense. The way I see it as a promoter - every decision by a group of friends to go on holiday or to a festival is driven or initiated by one person in that group. We’re targeting the DJs, the producers, the promoters, the real enthusiasts - if they’re on board, they’re going to be bringing their like-minded mates. We ourselves are promoters and music enthusiasts, so we feel if we set the theme how we like it, people of a similar mind will be on board who then pull their mates in and you’ll end up with the ideal group.
> There are ever more artists, labels, fledgling nights who’re willing to get involved, however investors are more and more cautious. So, has it got easier or harder to run a festival over the last few years?
I think that promoters for major events need to get together and have some kind of amnesty on booking fees for artists because, though I appreciate that these festivals are often essential revenue streams for artists and that needs to be respected, it’s important for agents and artists to have an of the huge costs involved for us as festival organisers. We are creating an environment in which music can get listened to, by the right people, in the right way. The right festivals approach to marketing music could almost be described as a ‘personal’ one given the effect of the experience. All business ventures are risky but the real challenge with any festival is that its once every 365 days. It’s a whole year to recoup costs and reputation if it doesnt work out first time round! Foreign festivals always have that extra risk too - remember that Icelandic volcano a couple of years ago? If that had created a no-fly zone for Europe whilst Outlook was on... well I’d be standing outside the cafe watching you interview someone else right now!
> As more festivals take on this format - UK promoters heading abroad to host, will there be an upsurge in local musical talent too?
It’s already happening. I was at Seasplash reggae festival in Croatia last weekend and I saw a lot of younger local people in the crowd, aged 18, 19 ,20. I asked the Croatian promoter and he said it was a new experience for them: he told me that Outlook had been a big influence on them getting into the live music idea. We now represent local talent in our lineups, we have a stage takeover with them and we have a submission process. Also in eastern europe, there's a lot of organisations that are focussed on bringing european talent, DJS, musicians and spreading it around. It really is a very difficult process because of how different our scene is versus a Croatian or Serbian scene - but there are so many elements that make a scene and its so hard to understand that because the options are so vast that people rarely look outside their own large remit. The internet as a platform will only go so far to expose people to totally different stuff. Round the world, electronic music is at a different stage at every place - which is a good thing. Last year I booked about 120 parties around the world - I saw just how contrasting the local styles of music were. In America for example they developed dubstep later than us in the UK and it put us off initially because it felt less further on than our sound. But now the right people have connected with it and the Americans are pushing this kind of grime crossover rather than the UK's wobble sound - so both countries are sharing scenes. Every little pocket of electronic music around the world keeps it healthy. Croatia will slowly but surely develop. Europeans are trying to get away from the folky-dance-music scene and into the electronic soulful sound which is perfect and some of the producers coming through are brilliant.
> What other festivals do you rate?
Sonar, Exit for big festivals. I'm also a big fan of events that have that small kind of regulars, communal spirit - Garance,a dub festival in the South of France and Rototum Sunsplash in Spain are good examples. In this country, Glastonbury, Shambhala, Boomtown Fair. My favourite in the UK at the moment is Beat Herder, its a small festival near lancashire and it just feels like a little community. I guess you have to remember that its the line up and location that pull you to a festival, but it’s the friendships and the bonds you make that create the experience and the memories
> What advice would you give for promoters trying to set up new festivals?
Create a vision, understand it and make sure everyone core to the creation of the festival understand that vision. Then make sure that everything: the layout, the theme, the line up, the press and marketing, is all linked to that vision. It can be a very simple vision, whether that’s a 2 day rave in a forest or a simply ‘A new Global Gathering’, as long as you have a vision to stick too.
Dimensions Festival, featuring Carl Craig, Scuba, Joy Orbison and others, runs from 6-9th of September in Fort Punta Chriso, Pula. for more details visit http://www.dimensionsfestival.com/
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